Key Elements from Famous Actors Headshots and Portraits
Updated: Sep 12
While fame isn't required for having your portrait or headshot taken, drawing inspiration from portraits or headshots of famous actors can be fascinating.
We can gain valuable insights from experienced photographers who expertly handle lighting, poses, and framing in celebrity portraits.
Below, you'll find a collection of photos by experienced photographers that capture some of the top actors.
Jessica Chastain, Oscar-nominated actress
Photo by Joey Lawrence
Robert De Niro
Photo by Joey Lawrence
A key element in these portraits: I like the contrast between the light on the face and the dark background. This contrast helps the viewer focus easily more on the face.
2. Rami Malek
Photo by Paul Smith
If you are curious about what the original talent agency headshot card looks like printed, here is a reference below:
Fun fact: Rami Malek mentioned his unusual way of getting acting auditions in a TV show – by adding secretly his headshots into food orders while working as a delivery man.
The TV show host gave the audience and viewers a look at Malek's old headshot which he thought was from his late teens or early 20s.
Malek then mentioned that the job received was for a guest place on an episode of the hit comedy-drama tv show called "Gilmore Girls", which was running in 2004.
Photo by Jordan Matter
The photos from Jordan Matter were presented in many magazines and galleries all over the world.
The facial expression and the blur outside of the face caught my eye. The actor looks approachable and friendly.
Famous actor headshots on one of the most popular actor sites: imdb.com
imdb.com has actor profile pages for top actors but also amateur actors.
I will show examples of headshots that look professional but also natural that are currently used on IMDb at the time of writing this article.
Keanu Reeves headshot
Image source: imdb.com
Headshot on IMDB actor page
I also identified an old headshot of Keanu Reeves from 1984 from when he was about 19-20 years old.
Photograph of Young Keanu Reeves by Michael Cooper 1984
Image source: Reddit
Key elements in these headshots: The photo in 2023 is at a much higher quality compared to the one in 1984.
In the recent photo, Keanu looks like a professional wearing an elegant black blazer, and a better hairstyle. The beard complements his hairstyle and personality. Also, a big difference is that the old photo was black& white, a trend from the past. New headshot photos are usually made in colour.
Image source: imdb.com
Headshot on Imdb actor page
Photo by Robert Wilson
HeadsIMDBon imdb actor page
Image source: Imdb.com
Photo by Unknown
This headshot is currently used at the time of writing this article also IMDBhe imdb actor page.
I selected this headshot to show that not all headshots have the same expression. Kevin is a comedian so he is showing his personality with a warm smile.
Image source: imdb.om
What do these famous actors headshots have on IMDb?
Key common elements for a good professional headshot
(from the famous actors headshots above)
Framing: The recommended framing of a headshot is at least from the waist up, but ideally it should be shot closer, from the chest up.
Any further extension risks classification as a full-body shot, which could easily elude notice during the casting director's perusal of numerous shots on their screen. Bear in mind, they must check multiple photographs simultaneously, each presented in a minuscule format. When your image is captured in closer proximity, they can see your face easily, despite its diminutive scale. Enhanced clarity invariably heightens the likelihood of your image receiving the click, prompting a more comprehensive examination of your submission.
When I analyzed 100 actors profiles from the section "Most Popular Celebs", over 95% of profile photos were from the chest up or closer.
Horizontal vs. Vertical: Usually, vertical headshots are easier to use and many casting directors prefer them. on Imdb all headshots are vertical.
Background: It is recommended that it is not distracting. If you're not shooti with a flat backdrop in the background, then check this is very blurred out so you can't tell what's behind you. It's also recommended that the subject is in contrast with the background to stand out. I noticed many of the professional headshots used a grey or white background.
Color vs. Black & White: Casting directors might want to know what colour of your hair or eyes which they can see in black& white photos so we suggest going for colour photos as a top priority if you are starting out.
Note: Even when looking at a list with the "Most Popular Celebs" on IMDb I could see 11% of headshots to be black & white (only 11 out of 100 headshots)
What are the most popular platforms that are used by famous actors for headshots?
The IMDb profile and Instagram profile could be enough to give casting an idea of who you are. It's recommended to check if your photos look great at least on these two sites.
What are the most popular casting sites for actors and headshots?
The most popular casting sites from what I noticed are:
F.A.Q. - Common questions
Q: What type of headshots do actors need?
A: There are two main headshot types in the acting world: commercial and feature shots. Commercial photos are usually the simple smile photos that you use to book commercials and background roles. Featured shots are more dramatic images used to cast featured roles, featured extra parts, and stage roles. It is useful to have both types in your portfolio.
Q: Why are headshots important for actors?
Headshots are important because actors can use them for:
Online casting profiles
Sending to agents & managers for potential representation
Personal actor sites
Professional social media pages
Marketing materials (for example business cards)
Your headshot is sent to casting directors when you are ready for a role and to agents when you're looking for representation. Casting directors use headshots to help them decide if the people who applied have the appropriate 'look' and charisma for a specific role.
You want to be seen as a professional, and a good, high-quality headshot shows that you are serious about your career.
Q: How many headshots do actors need?
A: The minimum is at least one professional headshot if you can't afford more.
In an ideal world and if budget is not an issue, you should have between 2 and 7 different headshots. Most actors believe they should do one generic headshot that can be sent to a multiple types of auditions. This is a mistake. Each headshot should capture a specific role you can play, and you'll send the headshot that is most appropriate for the role you're applying to. Then you will send the photo that makes the most sense for each role you apply to. Keep in mind that generic shots usually work only for commercial roles. Reference
Q. What is the Difference Between a Portrait and a Headshot?
A. Headshots are mainly focused on the head and face. Most of the time, headshots are tight shots of the head and shoulders of your subject. Portraits, on the other hand, can be framed more loosely. Portraits could contain only the head and shoulders or they could include more of the upper torso or even the entire body.
While headshots have a soft light and a formal style, a portrait allows for more artistic freedom for example a dramatic use of light and shade. This could create an air of mystery or props could be used to tell a story about the person. Portraits can be made in extreme close–up or from a distance and can be made more interesting by being shot at an unusual angle. Headshots, on the other hand, don’t have these treatments.
Do famous professional actors still use headshots?
Yes. Professional and non-professional actors will usually have multiple different headshots taken in various poses or with different expressions. With multiple headshots they can easily select the one that best represents them for a specific audition or role.
There might be some exceptions where headshots are not needed for an audition, but it is better to be prepared than to say sorry later.
I am a headshot photographer with over 7 years of experience in editing and retouching using tools like Photoshop or Lightroom. Whether you're an actor, a performer, a company, or a professional, please do explore the website to see if you'd like us to work together.